Use The Executive Summary Approach
Do you want to be more effective presenting technical information to non-technical executives?
The first key to an influential presentation is to meet the audience where they are and then to speak their language.
Your audience is not intimately familiar with your assumptions, models and analytical techniques – and most do not care to learn these things. Their goal is not to become a technical expert like you, but to solve a problem.
So you want to keep the presentation to executives at a high level by focusing on bottom-line problems, results and recommendations. Stay away from details about the process of your analysis. If the audience wants more detail, they will ask for it. Then, by all means, give them the detail.
Additionally, keep the presentation relevant. What does the audience really want to know about the material you are presenting?
Executive Summary Structure
Here is an outline of questions you will want to address in your presentation:
1. What is the current situation?
Briefly lay out the problems you are trying to solve (e.g., “Product XYZ is not achieving our target profit goals”) or the results you are trying to achieve (e.g., “Our purpose here today is to figure out how we will double Product XYZ sales next year”).
If necessary, you may need to discuss what’s causing the problems or the need for attaining the results. Beware however, of going down rabbit trails or getting the audience lost in minutia. Keep it high level!
2. What are the implications of the current situation?
It is usually a good thing to help the audience understand the implications of the current situation. In other words, how is this problem (or lack of result) impacting the bottom line?
If the implications are significant enough, reviewing them will raise the tension of the audience. Raising the tension will do two things: 1) more deeply engage your audience, and 2) move them closer to acting on your recommendation.
If the implications are insignificant, then why are we having this meeting in the first place?
3. What are our options?
It is best to come with options, ideally three. Motivational speaker Anthony Robbins has said that, “One option is no choice. Two options is a dilemma. Three options, now I have a choice.” We all like to have options as to how to respond to a situation.
4. What is my recommendation?
Even though you are providing options, you set yourself apart if you make a strong recommendation for the option you feel is best for the company. One reason that technical professionals are criticized is because they present the problems, but do not offer any solutions. The executive thinks, “Thanks for throwing this monkey on my back and fleeing the scene!!”
I will almost always ask my auto mechanic what he recommends to fix my car. (Obviously to do this, I have learned to believe my mechanic has my best interests at heart). It is not because I am stupid or that I am not embracing my role as the decision maker. He is just closer to the problem. He has probably seen cases like this before. Through his experience he has seen what has worked best in similar situations. In the same way, an executive most likely will be interested in your opinion about what the organization should do.
Technical professionals often provide recommendations that are filled with caveats. This can be less helpful than providing no solution.
Set yourself apart by providing a strong recommendation. It lets people know you will not only analyze problems, but you will also solve them – which brings much greater value to the organization. Executives will perceive you more as a peer.
5. What’s the rationale for my recommendation?
Once you provide for the recommendation, be prepared to explain your rationale for choosing that option. If your business case makes sense and is feasible, it will be well received, even if it is not ultimately chosen.
The structure of your final executive summary will vary somewhat depending on your situation. The key to remember is to stay high level and relevant to make the most impact.
This Week’s Leadership Action Step:
Look for one low to medium stakes meeting this week at which you can present a recommendation, and follow the ‘executive summary’ approach laid out above. This could be a one-on-one with a peer, a status meeting with your team, or even a family meeting. Use this as a chance to practice the approach and see what you can do better.
Drop us a note or post a comment on what happens.
Contributed by David C Miller & John Hadley